Title of Commencement Speech Modified After Protests

'Jihad' will no longer appear in Commencement Day program

After negotiating with students upset over his Commencement speech, Zayed M. Yasin ’02 has struck the word “jihad” from the title of his address.

The title of his address had been announced last week as “American Jihad,” but after an uproar on campus and even on national television, he announced a new title on Wednesday—“Of Faith and Citizenship: My American Jihad.”

Although the new subtitle will still include the word that sparked a petition drive against the speech, that subtitle will not appear on the Commencement Day program and the address will be listed only as “Of Faith and Citizenship.”

Yasin said he had originally considered this title and subtitle when he was developing possible titles along with Dean of Continuing Education Michael Shinagel, a member of the Commencement speech selection committee who had been assigned to help him prepare.

But a few weeks ago, Yasin said, Shinagel recommended a shorter, punchier title and the two shortened it to simply “American Jihad.”

In addition to changing the title, Yasin agreed on Wednesday to add a sentence condemning violence in the name of jihad, which includes a condemnation of the Sept. 11 attacks.

The students circulating the petition against the speech, who had called on Yasin to condemn violent jihad, said the changes were “a step in the right direction” but said they still have concerns about the speech.

“We’re moving closer to compromise,” said Benjamin Z. Galper ’02, a former president of Hillel. “Yet there’s still some issues and concerns he hasn’t addressed.”

Uproar has quickly spread from campus to the national media and Yasin, a former president of the Harvard Islamic Society (HIS), has been attacked not only for the title of his speech but also for his personal activities.

On the news talk show “Hardball” last night, host Chris Matthews called Yasin “a kid known to have been a fundraiser for Hamas.”

While Yasin was HIS president, the group held a fundraiser that was initially scheduled to benefit the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), which the U.S. State Department later alleged has ties to the terrorist group Hamas.

HIS later decided to donate the proceeds to the Red Crescent, the Middle Eastern equivalent of the Red Cross. Yasin has consistently defended HLF, saying that while working with children in refugee camps in Albania three years ago he witnessed the group’s “professionalism, compassion and dedication to helping people in dire need.”

Yasin said he has received hate mail, including a death threat in an electronic greeting card last weekend.

“I would like to say how deeply I regret the personal attacks on the speaker that have accompanied the controversy around his speech,” Dean of the College Harry R. Lewis ’68 said last week.

Meetings between Yasin, the speech selection committee and the petitioners continued yesterday, when Yasin met with Galper and committee chair and classics department chair Richard F. Thomas.

“I really hope that it will be possible to issue some kind of common statement,” Yasin said.